Thursday, December 16, 2010

Composing Comments on Student Papers

Guest  blogster Theresa Clark (Villanova) spoke on the subject at the LWI One-Day Workshop at Widener Law School on December 3. Here, she offers a summary of her suggestions.

Everything that I Know about Effective Commenting I Learned in Legal Writing

Be Clear.  An effective written comment should identify the problem specifically, point the student to the solution (or provide it), and point the student to a good example (or provide it).   

Be Concise.  Do not provide multiple comments on the same type of problem, when one will suffice.  Provide a detailed comment for the type of error only one time.  The second time the error presents, note the type of error and refer to the prior comment.  For all subsequent errors of that type, simply circle or highlight it.

Be Organized.  Communicate your comments in an organized manner.  As stated above, identify the problem, point toward the solution, and provide a good example.   

Be Goal and Audience Driven.  Keep in mind the purpose of the assignment.  Create a checklist of the skills that you are assessing on a given assignment.  Do not comment on skills that you have not addressed in class.  Also, keep in mind that these are first year law students.  Draft your comments using a professional tone, use language that the students will understand, and adjust your expectations if necessary.

Be Confident.  Communicate your comments with confidence.  Do not use passive voice and do not water down your identification of the problem to spare the students’ feelings.   Do engage in a public relations campaign and explain to your students that your intent is not to be harsh, but to promote learning. 

Be Correct.  Do not identify a problem if you are not 100% sure that you are correct.Apply these keys to your written comments and you will have an effective comment every time.

Happy grading.

(tmc) (ljs)

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